Book Reviews: The Severity Of Murders, Or A Lone Man’s Death By Poison

April 19, 2020

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52 Weeks With Jesus by James Merritt

The De Zalze Murders by Julian Jansen

The Fatuous State Of Severity by Phumilani Pikoli

Lone Man’s Climb: A Journey Of Trauma, Tragedy And Triumph On K2 by Adrian Hayes

Death By Carbs by Paige Nick

Durban Poison: A Collection Of Vitriol And Wit by Ben Trovato


Many devotionals are, while well-intentioned and helpful at some level, too superficial to actually make much of a difference in terms of intellectual or educational value. American pastor, author and broadcaster James Merritt aims a little higher than that with the collection of lessons in 52 Weeks With Jesus, each of which has its own focus, grouped under a number of themes. And these themes are interesting, thought-provoking and challenging, rather than clichéd and comfortable. So there is the section called Jesus, The Transformer, with sub-sections titled A Misfit Among Misfits and A Messy Messiah – not the sentiments expressed in the usual pretty notebooks with flowers and butterflies on the cover. Elsewhere, there are sustained studies on aspects of Jesus’ miracles, His teaching, His storytelling, His leadership and ultimately, in a sub-section called Dead Man Walking, His triumph. Each study sees Merritt introduce a passage of scripture or an incident in which Jesus was involved, and then give a useful analysis of the text and some suggestions for responses the readers could consider. As the title suggests, there is only one study per week, though of course that schedule can be ignored – and probably will be as you are stimulated by the perspectives presented and press on to learn more. This is an excellent resource that will yield value each tie it is read. – BD


One early morning in January, 2015, South Africa woke up to a horror story of a family hacked to death. The Van Breda axe murder story, up to the judgment of the case, now imminent, is told in The De Zalze Murders a day-by-day account of the police and legal action that followed. The writer is a journalist who traced the entire tragedy from start till present. Apart from the family background history, it is interesting to get insight into the investigation, the forensics and the legal procedures that followed the murders. Eyebrows have been raised since then: why did the case take so long to come to a conclusion? Were there flaws in the investigation? Why was Henri, the surviving son, not immediately treated as a suspect? How did Marli, the daughter, survive the ordeal and how is she now? Is it possible that she will forever suffer a memory block about the attacker? Questions upon questions made the case a publicity event over and above the murder itself. One could not escape forming an opinion about Henri’s guilt or innocence. Reading this detailed story creates an intense awareness of the trial and the expected outcome. – DB


A writer’s background and a book’s origin can be a story in its own right without it being an autobiography. Phumlani Pikoli picked himself up after depression treatment in a psychiatric clinic, writing stories. He likes to choose the write words (he is  dyslectic) and began self-publishing with the help of friends. Then Pan Macmillan spotted him. In the old days, you were a writer by the grace of a publisher, but Pikoli became a writer before being a publisher’s choice. The Fatuous State Of Severity is a collection of enjoyable short stories with the theme, as the title suggests, the wisdom of tolerance. Some of the stories are a mere two-page commentary glimpses of life. Is Pikoli dealing with relationships? Yes – this is life on the street in South Africa. A good read. – DB


K2, also known as The Savage Mountain, has the second highest peak, after Everest, in the world. That peak is 8,611 metres above sea level. The mountain lies on the border of China and Pakistan. It is more difficult to climb, not only on account of its unrelenting steepness, but also the unpredictability and changeability of the weather. Moreover, the climb is dogged by rockfalls and avalanches, treacherous pits of deep snow. One in four attempts to summit K2 results in death. K2 may be a little short of Everest in height but it has a daunting reputation of greater perilousness. The author first tried to climb this mountain in 2013 but failed. He tried again in 2014 and succeeded. Lone Man’s Climb is Adrian Hayes’ autobiographical account of those endeavours. A distinguished former soldier and accomplished adventurer, Hayes has established records published in Guiness of expeditions to both the North and South Poles, and has crossed the Arabian desert, the account of which he has published in another book. He has featured prominently in several television documentaries for distinguished channels such as National Geographic and Discovery. He has previously climbed to the top of Mount Everest and kite-skiied the length of Greenland. A gifted keynote and motivational speaker, Hayes writes well. His style is gripping. He is no mere adventurer, but also a keen sportsman, a player in a rock band and a person of strong political opinions. There is a certain madness to him. He admits to his own selfishness. His yearning for adventure not only separated him from his children and his pregnant girlfriend but his deliberate exposure to the risk of death, which would have deprived them all of his many gifts of personality,  invites questions with which he deals but, ultimately, provides no satisfactory answer. He is critical of the materialism that grips the world, but he himself suffers from a deeply competitive, indeed reckless spirit. Hayes is a man capable of deep friendships. This is apparent not only from his friendship with that other famous adventurer, Sir Ranulph Fiennes, the Sherpas who assisted him and others like Marty Schmidt, the New Zealand mountaineering guide and his son Denali, both of whom were to die on K2. Here is an absorbing adventure story that forces us to think deeply about some of life’s big questions. – NW


In Death By Carbs, a high-profile celebrity is dead. In this case, it happens to be a sports scientist-cum-dietician, but whatever the identity, it’s a casualty that changes the perspective of this tale’s many protagonists. This disparate group see the passing of Professor Tim Noakes as an opportunity to grow their own business interests or spheres of influence, to undo the damage they feel Noakes’ theories have done to their products, or to use the man himself as leverage for financial gain. Who was responsible for his death is not the salient issue here: Nick is concerned with the satirical and comedic value of the responses to the event of his passing, and delivers caustic insights in these regards. Short, snappy chapters highlight the fickleness, greed, vanity and stupidity of everyone from those who felt virtuous because of their Noakes-endorsed diets to those who felt positively gleeful at the news of his demise. It’s light, fluffy comedy with a dark core: if you only laugh, without thinking slightly more deeply about current affairs once you’ve read it, you may be a character in Nick’s next effort…


Satirist Ben Trovato is in a very different place to what was described in his columns of five or ten years ago. Older, single and – admirably – still maintaining a professional path that is unlikely to ever make him rich, he still offers scathing perspectives, but from a man in a different stage of life and with alternative concerns. Many of the entries in Durban Poison read like essays more than columns; pathos-filled slice-of-life pieces among the righteous ranting that may make you grunt empathetically rather than laugh knowingly as you take them in. The writer has always embraced the gonzo approach of immersing himself in the seediness where the inspiration for his work is most strongly evident. But while that part of the well-established persona projected through each story included here gives a unified tone to everything and allows the writer a screen to place between the reader and what he doesn’t want to include in his work, it does occasionally become a distraction when so many columns are collected together in book form. Tricks and mechanisms to spark a laugh become a touch too noticeable, occasionally taking away from the profundity that’s often veiled by the humour, anger and intelligent speaking truth to power. Generally speaking, though, this is an excellent compendium of candour, saying what needs to be said.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][vc_column width=”1/4″][vc_widget_sidebar sidebar_id=”default_sidebar”][/vc_column][/vc_row]